Written by Ashley Koh

What happened?

Under the glitz and glamour of Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay lies an uglier side of Singapore: rising social inequality. Despite being one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, Singapore scores pretty high on the Gini Coefficient (37 out of 156), an indicator of income inequality. So, what’s the latest development? On May 30, Dr Teo You Yenn, head of sociology at NTU and author of This Is What Inequality Looks like, addresses the obligation for welfare institutions to meet the needs of the poor. She asserts that when families have unmet needs, such as having inadequate living space in rental flats, complex and long-term consequences are bound to occur, enveloping poor families in further problems. She also highlights that meritocracy may not be the best solution for reducing social inequality, because meritocracy inherently advantages those who are already advantaged in a field of ‘equal opportunities”.


What do others have to say?

Dr Sudha Nair, executive director of Pave (a centre that works on disadvantaged families) wrote a response column on The Straits Times. She mentioned that facilitated self-help for poor families is key in ensuring long-term sustainability and success of welfare programs. She also questioned the viability of directly meeting the needs of the poor and defends the obligation to ask tough, intrusive or even embarrassing questions. To cite Dr Nair, “Should social workers not question such a family spending $500 a month on cigarettes and cable TV while at the same time applying for financial aid?”. Ultimately, the key principle in social work is that everyone has the potential to succeed, and for social workers to facilitate their success.


Dr Maliki, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence and Foreign Affairs, also threw his hat into the ring. He mentioned that poor families are only facing difficulties temporarily and Singapore’s welfare mechanisms would function like clockwork to alleviate the financial difficulties of poor families. Even then, former Associate Editor of The Straits Times, Bertha Henson summed up the debate well, balancing the viewpoints between both camps in her article with Yahoo! News. She ends the article with a key takeaway: that a mature debate on social policy is beneficial and that policymakers must be humble enough to acknowledge mistakes and incite change.

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